Basic Magnesium, Inc. (BMI) formed in June 1941 as a joint venture between Basic Refractories, Inc. of Cleveland, Ohio and Magnesium Elektron, Limited of England. Basic Refractories, Inc. owned mining claims in Gabbs Valley, Nye County, Nevada, which produced the magnesite and brucite needed to produce magnesium metal. Magnesium Elektron, Limited owned the patent for the electrolytic process of extracting metallic magnesium from these minerals. The United States Federal Government required magnesium, a lightweight metal, for the creation of an aluminum alloy used in the production of incendiary bombs, munitions casings, and airplane parts during World War II. In August 1941 the Federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation’s Defense Plant Corporation (DPC) granted BMI a contract to build a magnesium manufacturing complex codenamed Plancor 201. The contract also allowed BMI to extend mining operations in the Gabbs Valley.
With funding from the DPC, the mining camp grew to include open pit quarries for the mining of magnesium oxide and magnesium carbonate, concentrating and roasting plants, and a town named Gabbs for employee housing. With raw materials available, the United States army ordered BMI to build the magnesium manufacturing complex a minimum of 250 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. BMI selected an area of 18,400 acres southeast of Las Vegas, Nevada on unincorporated land. Because of its proximity to Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, the location could meet the demand for electricity and water needed for the electrolytic process of magnesium metal production.
BMI, under the leadership of Howard P. Eells, began construction of the plant in September 1941, completing almost 80% of the facilities before the Anaconda Copper Mining Company gained control of the corporation in November of that year. BMI contracted companies to build chlorine, refining, and magnesium metal plants at the site, and constructed a railroad for the transportation of raw materials from Gabbs and another line that linked the facility to the Union Pacific railroad branch in Boulder City, Nevada. In 1942, the government hired California architect Paul Revere Williams to design the 1,000-unit Basic Townsite, 509-unit Victory Village apartments, and the racially segregated 324-unit Carver Park complex.
The plant, though unfinished, was already producing magnesium in October 1942 and reached the capacity output of refined magnesium required by the DPC and the Federal Government in June 1943. In 804 days of production, the Henderson BMI plant produced 166,322,685 pounds of refined magnesium metal. The plant continued operating above production capacity until April 1944 when the War Production Board issued a curtailment order, which cut the magnesium output by 40%. Production gradually reduced until the plant shut down in November 1944. In 1947, the War Asset Administration offered the BMI site for sale as war surplus property and the Nevada State Legislature approved a bill granting the Colorado River Commission authority to purchase the complex. In 1949, Basic Refractories, Inc. purchased the mining operation in Gabbs, built a refining factory, and continued to sell refined magnesium to the private sector.
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